Charles Gurumukh Sobhraj had already acquired international notoriety when he drugged and robbed a group of French tourists, and killed one of them, in Delhi in June, 1986. He had already served his 10-year sentence when he escaped Tihar jail on March 16, 1986. His arrest 22 days later and further incarceration only helped him evade a much worse fate in Thailand. He had already been granted bail by the Delhi High Court in 1989 but managed to stay in Tihar jail till 1997, ensuring the lapse of the warrant for murder in Thailand that carried capital punishment.
These are only the Indian examples in the conman’s sparking and notorious career of evading and manipulating criminal justice jurisdictions in a sting of countries, which hold out lessons for the authorities, law enforcement agencies and the citizen from India’s best protected jail in 1886. It was clear from our investigation at the outset that he planned the elaborate escape, not with the intention of escaping the country, but to forestall the threat of extradition to Thailand, where he may have been hanged due to pending charges for the murder of two tourists. Equally striking was the complete subversion of legal processes inside the Tihar jail that he effected for more than a decade, a revelation that led to an overhaul of prison laws and oversight.
His second act of manipulation came in 1989 when, a Delhi court granted him bail on pending charges of abduction, cheating and murder. He refused to deposit the surety of Rs, 50,000 for years, ensuring that he could play for time and wait for charges against him in multiple countries to lapse.
By 1995, the twenty-year warrant in Thailand issued through Interpol had expired. Indian law clearly states that “a prisoner is kept in jail or judicial custody against the warrant (warrants) issued by any court with respect to the criminal case (s)” pending against the person issued by the respective court (s)”. After 1995, a time came when no warrants were pending against him within the country. Yet, by leveraging the delayed furnishing of the bail surety amount, Sobhraj continued to extend his stay in Tihar.
In 1997, the government finally outwitted him. The centre exercised its powers to deport him to France using an archaic and little known colonial law. The Bengal and Bombay Prisoners Regulation Act(s) of 1817 and 1819 — when read with criminal justice statues such as the Indian Penal code, Indian Police act 1861, and relevant procedural and evidence laws— provided for “any person to be placed under person restraint as a state Prisoner, against whom there was not sufficient ground to institute any judicial proceedings, or such proceeding may not be adapted to the nature of case, or may for other reasons be unadvisable or improper”. The government declared him a state prisoner and pushed his deportation through. (IPA Service)